Nolan sprinted along the empty streets towards the sounds of battle. The southern gatehouse had been barren, the Vermillion police force long since gone. Holes in the asphalt had hinted that Team Rocket had used a similar ambush technique as they had at the western entrance.
Sceptile kept pace with his trainer, claws clacking on the pavement with each step. A look of concern flashed in his yellow eyes when he glanced at Nolan. The young man wore an expression of steely determination and undeniable frustration.
Nolan’s nostrils flared as he gave a groan of anger. Silph Tower didn’t seem to be getting any closer. He was contemplating sending out Flygon just to get it over with, but his years of experience told him to wait. He had to let his powerful dragon-type rest for the battle he was sure was coming.
They sped through another block. Someone, Rocket or Police, had clearly come this way. Blood splotched the sidewalk here and there, and the pavement was sundered in many places. Nolan slowed his pace as they came up a small hill. As they reached the peak, a massive pile of rubble came into view.
One of the buildings had collapsed, throwing a heap of bricks, rebar, and shattered glass all across the street. A few civilians picked through the debris, covered in dust and tears. They glanced up at Nolan and Sceptile as the trainer and his Pokémon slowed to a halt, but apparently decided he was no threat and went back to sorting through the bricks in an attempt to find whatever valuables they had lost.
Nolan swore and spun on his heel. The mound was too big to climb over. He would have to go around.
It was easy enough not to get lost, with the black monolith of Silph towering over even the tallest high-rises. Nolan’s eyes never left his goal. He was quite surprised when he heard the clatter of metal on pavement behind him, for the battle still sounded to be six or seven blocks away.
Sceptile skidded to a halt and whipped around, leaf blades out wide in a balanced fighting stance. His leafy tail swept up a cloud of dust as he turned.
Nolan stopped too and looked back to see what had caused the sound.
He watched in shock as a tall man pulled himself out of a sewer hole and dusted off his strange garb. Nolan was so preoccupied with the identity of this man that he failed to notice the slough of ragged civilians following him out of the sewer.
The man had spiky black hair and wore a scarf-like red cape that contrasted brightly with his loose black ninja getup.
“K-Koga?” Nolan stammered, stepping forward.
The gym leader turned away from helping refugees out of the hole to look at the trainer. His eyes immediately grew to the size of dinner plates.
“Yeah!” Nolan was glad to see his old mentor, but had more pressing issues at hand. “Look, I need to…”
Koga interrupted with his hearty laugh. “Fwahahaha! I thought you were dead, boy!” He strode forward and grabbed Nolan by the shoulders, beaming at him.
“Yeah, so I’ve heard. I need to find Criss, have you seen her?”
“Of course! She’s in Silph Tower, naturally. She’ll be glad to see you, I’m sure. I’m glad to see you!”
“We’ll see. Thanks, I’ve got to run.”
Nolan turned back around and dashed down the street, Sceptile at his heels.
Silph Tower? She was deeper into all of this than he had thought, likely in more ways than one. His legs were tiring, but sadness and rage drove him onwards.
I licked my lips, not for the first time. It was growing into a nervous tick. The feel of cracked skin and taste of blood was comforting somehow, a reminder of what I was supposed to be doing. My entire body felt hyper-sensitive, and not just because of the soreness that had found its way into almost every muscle. It was like the constant adrenaline rush had made my senses twice as powerful. I could acutely feel a drop of sweat working its way down my neck.
I turned my stun rod in my hands. I had taken the weapon out and put it away multiple times while Tim and I had stood waiting for Criss to finish looking at the map of the tower plastered on the wall next to the elevator. I wasn’t sure if she meant to memorize it or what, but I was getting impatient.
We were standing in the lobby of Silph Tower. Shiny blue marble made up the floor, while the walls were mostly glass, periodically interrupted by a steel girder. Overhead, a bright chandelier lit up the room, dangling from a light blue ceiling.
I looked outside, over the dry fountain that sat in the middle of the room. It appeared that the Rockets had set up their defensive line a ways away from the tower, for very few grunts ran around out in the street. They were oblivious to the intruders in their midst, for now.
“You nearly done?” I asked Criss. “Those Rockets outside aren’t going to ignore us for long.”
“Yeah,” agreed Tim. “We should probably keep moving, even if we have to take the stairs.”
Upon entering the shiny lobby, we had quickly established that the elevators had been shut down. Tim and I had rushed towards the stairs instead, but Criss had stopped us upon seeing the map. She wanted to get a good idea of what we might find.
“Alright, alright.” Criss moved away from the map. “Tim, get out your Haunter. It can take point in the shadows. Keith, your Kadabra can watch out rear and protect us from bullets if it comes to that.”
We both nodded and acquiesced to her orders. The ghost-type and psychic-type appeared in front of us and we gave them their orders. Haunter immediately bobbed away through a nearby door that led to the stairway.
“Remember,” Criss said, as she opened the door, revealing a brightly lit stairwell. “Whatever happens, don’t get separated.”
We began to march up the first flight of stairs with Criss in the lead. Above us, Haunter appeared out of the shadows and stuck its tongue out, a sign of greeting as near as we could figure out, and then floated away.
I could feel Psyke tugging ever so slightly at my mind. We didn’t want to risk a full on connection, but this way communication would be moments faster, and moments mattered.
“Sorry if this is a stupid question,” said Tim, looking uneasily around the whitewashed stairwell as we ascended. “But, what exactly is our goal here?”
“Mess things up, get in the Rocket’s hair,” Criss responded. “Figure out what their plan is, then ruin it. In the end I’d like to get to the top.”
“What do you think will be at the top?” I asked.
“The big man himself,” she responded.
“We’re going to fight the Rocket Boss?” Tim gulped.
“Keith and I have been up against him before,” Criss said reassuringly.
That wasn’t entirely true; he had left without even putting up a fight on Mt. Moon.
“Don’t worry,” Criss continued, sounding as if she didn’t really want to think about it. “With the three of us, it shouldn’t be a problem. Anyway, if we see anyone, we should probably hide rather than fight if we can avoid it.”
“Makes sense, where are we headed first?” We had gone up a floor already, but Criss had led us past the door.
“Third floor,” she said as we came up the last flight of stairs to the next door. It was dull gray in color, and had a sign above its small square window saying “FLOOR 3 – DATA TRANSFORMATION AND TRANSPORTATION: RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT LAB 1”
“My brother told me about this,” I said. “These are the guys who made the Poké Ball transportation system.”
“Well let’s see what the Rockets are doing with it.” Criss opened the door, and we stepped through.
Reese stopped for a moment, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. All of the windowless room’s light came from a wall of TV monitors, each showing a different image. This was one of several security centers set up through the tower, and Reese had a feeling he knew why he had been summoned here.
The unmistakable silhouette of Giovanni stood in front of the monitors, one hand resting nonchalantly on the back of a chair in which sat the guard on duty.
“Captain Walker, I’m glad you’re here.” Giovanni didn’t even turn around. Not for the first time, Reese was struck with the childish thought that the man had eyes in the back of his head. “You have men patrolling the tower I assume?”
“Of course, sir,” Reese said.
“You know I’m a strong believer in correcting mistakes,” the Rocket boss went on, as if Reese’s answer didn’t really matter.
Reese didn’t respond.
Giovanni pointed to one of the screens. Reese looked and saw a trio of recognizable trainers and their Pokémon bustling along a corridor in some low level.
“There is your mistake, Captain. Correct it.”
Without a word, Reese turned and left the room, his dark coat flapping around him.
I was rather disappointed by what we found on the other side of the door. It was possibly the most generic looking office I had seen. The only thing standing out amongst the rows and rows of cubicles was a pair of what looked to be prototype Poké Ball transportation machines against the far wall. We had come out right in the middle of the floor, so we could only see half of the room, but I doubted what was on the other side would be much better.
Criss didn’t seem discouraged, however. After looking around for a second, she led us around the walls that surrounded the stairwell. It was then that I noticed a deep humming noise, like a thousand muffled fans.
The other side of the floor wasn’t as open. Half of it was sectioned off by a stark white wall with a single metal door identical to the one that we had taken out of the stairwell. Whatever was on the other side of the door seemed to be what was making the humming sound. The rest of the space was mostly taken up by a bank of odd looking computers and a huge metal box that looked like some kind of weird machine with an open front high enough to walk into.
Criss jerked a thumb towards the door. “I’m going to go check out what’s in there, you guys poke around here.”
“But what are we looking for?” I asked, exasperated.
She shrugged. “You’ll know when you find it, I guess.”
I rolled my eyes as Criss turned away, but she jerked to a sudden halt and then stumbled.
She spun around angrily and glared over my shoulder. “What was that for?”
I turned to see what she was looking at. Psyke stood behind me, pointing his spoon at her.
The Kadabra raised his hand and pointed a claw at the door, shaking his head.
“What’s wrong?” Tim asked.
Suddenly, Tim’s Haunter burst through the door to the humming room, hands waving excitedly as it approached us.
“Oh,” said Criss, nodding in understanding. “There are Rockets in there.”
“Well I’m going to go check it out anyway. Scout things out.” Criss made to head towards the door again.
“Wait, shouldn’t we stick together?” I asked. “What if something happens?”
Criss didn’t even stop. “I’ll stay hidden. Best I go alone if I don’t want to be seen.”
“Hey, Koga trained me too, I can keep up,” I said indignantly.
“Did he train you to sneak around? No. You’re too tall.”
I frowned as she slowly opened the door, peered around the corner, and slipped into the room. Flareon darted in behind her just before the door closed.
I looked at Tim, who gave me a tight lipped smile as he tried to hold in his laughter. Apparently he had found Criss’s remark to be quite amusing. I punched him in the arm. “Shut up.”
“I didn’t say anything!”
I ignored him and stepped into the huge machine, slipping my stun rod back into its holster. Psyke, Tim and Haunter followed.
“What do you think this is?” Tim asked.
It looked like no more than a white tiled room with metal walls, lit by a bright white light panel in its ceiling. Curiosity piqued, but not gathering any clues as to its purpose from the inside, Tim went to look over the bank of computers while I examined the “door frame.” After a moment, I realized that was exactly what it was.
Grooves in the metal and on the floor reminded me keenly of those in an elevator.
“Looks like this closes…” I muttered to myself.
Looking over my shoulder, Psyke gestured towards something on the inside wall of the machine. I looked up. A small blue button that had escaped my attention earlier was affixed to the wall by the door.
“Here’s something!” said Tim. “Well… sort of.”
I stepped out of the machine and walked over to where he stood. Haunter bobbed up and down over my head animatedly as I looked at what Tim was pointing at.
A small nameplate was screwed in above one of the computer screens. It read: “MATTER TO DATA TRANSFORMER V3”
“What do you think that means?” asked Tim.
“Hell if I know.”
“Huh, you’re probably too tall to know,” he said with a smirk.
I punched him on the arm again.
Without warning, the door behind us burst open and Criss barreled out, Flareon right behind her.
“What was in there? Did they see you?” I asked, panicked.
“It’s just a huge server room, goes down to the bottom floor,” Criss replied breathlessly, looking around. “Five Skyguard. They didn’t see me, but they’re headed this way!”
She suddenly grabbed the Tim and me by our arms and yanked us into the machine. Our Pokémon followed us into the rather ineffective hiding place.
Criss glanced at the doorway, evidently coming to the same conclusion I had. “Does this thing close?”
“There’s a button over there, but I…”
She slammed the blue button without letting me finish. There was a quiet whirring noise and two metal panels slid out of the walls and began to slide shut, locking us inside the machine.
I felt nervous. “Criss, are you sure this is a good idea?”
She just shushed me. I strained my ears to hear over the whirring of the doors and the humming of the server room.
“What the hell?” said a deep voice from outside the machine. “Somebody’s…”
He was cut off as the doors closed all of the way.
“Empty string: destination,” said a robotic, feminine voice from overhead. The three of us looked around, panicked. “Reverting to last program: multi-dest dot TST.”
Criss looked at us with wide eyes. “Umm guys… you didn’t happen to figure out what this was, did you?”
I barely had a chance to shake my head before a sudden flash of light blinded me. I cried out in shock and covered my eyes, but the flash was gone instantly. As my eyes readjusted, I had the most peculiar sensation.
It was like every cell in my body was being pressed together. My muscles tensed of their own accord, and I got a sudden intense headache. Looking down, I could barely make out the white tiled floor, which seemed to be stretching and distorting.
I tried to say something, but no words left my mouth. It was then I realized that I couldn’t breathe.
And then, with another blinding flash, it all ended. The pressure eased and the headache disappeared. I gasped in a breath of much welcome air and looked around at Tim.
But he wasn’t there. Neither was Criss, Flareon, or Psyke. Only Haunter remained, floating in front of me with an immensely confused expression on its face.
“What the f-“
“Subject delivery successful,” the robotic voice interrupted. “Subjects: two. Destination: undefined.”
Spencer’s Poliwrath spat a powerful stream of water at the retreating Rockets, but they were out of range.
“Don’t worry about them,” Chief Blackston said. “We want to move quickly, not rashly.”
Spencer nodded, recalling his Pokémon to its ball.
The police chief looked at a map before continuing, his next words were projected to the entire company of around fifty officers. “There’s a plaza up ahead. It should be easily defensible, so assuming the Rockets aren’t already dug in there, it should be a good place to stop. We need to give the paramedics some time to catch up before we make it to Silph Tower.”
Murmurs of assent flowed from the crowd of policemen.
It didn’t take long to reach the plaza, which was fortunately quiet. One and two floor shops and restaurants formed a square around a beautiful stone fountain that was not currently running. As Spencer scanned the area however, he noticed a lone figure sitting on the fountain’s edge.
The figure stood up and approached the police force as they neared.
Spencer and Blackston stepped forward to look at the man. A rather worn looking fedora hid a mess of black hair that matched a short, scrubby beard. He wasn’t particularly tall, but appeared quite comfortable in Spencer’s towering presence, his hands tucked casually into the pockets of his patchy green jacket.
“What are you doing here?” Blackston demanded.
The man smiled, green eyes glinting mischievously. “Playing bait.”
At that moment, Spencer heard shouts from the surrounding rooftops. He turned to see several Rocket grunts standing on top of one of the restaurants, their Pokémon at their sides. It was a trap!
But by the time Spencer had pulled a Poké Ball from his belt, he realized that the handful of grunts wasn’t nearly big enough to pose any sort of threat to the police force, even with the element of surprise, which they didn’t seem to be utilizing very well. Spencer cast a confused glance at the tattered man that had been sitting by the fountain.
His grin hadn’t faltered. “Trap’s not for you, partner.”
With that, the building that the Rockets were standing on promptly exploded. The man watched, amused, as wood and glass sprayed across the plaza and the Rockets were thrown into the air, only to come down with a sickening crunch on the hard brick ground. None of them, nor their Pokémon, got up.
Police officers were running for cover every which way, but it soon became clear that the explosion had been an isolated one.
Out of the remains of the building rolled an unconscious Electrode, which was immediately returned to its Poké Ball by a woman emerging from a nearby gift shop.
“Perfectly done, Beth,” the tattered man called to the newcomer, who waved before coming over. She was followed by another man that Spencer didn’t recognize.
“Who are you people?” Blackston demanded once more.
“Name’s Harry. And this is Elizabeth and Zachary.” The man and woman returned Blackston’s chilling glare with ones of their own. “We’re what I like to call the resistance,” Harry continued. “The trainers with enough of a backbone to fight back against these bastards.”
“Are there any more of you?” Spencer asked.
Harry shook his head sadly. “Pickings were slim after that shooting, but four of us decided to make a go at a good ol’ fashioned train heist.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the magnet train station.
“Four of you?”
“Yeah,” Zachary, a bulky, bald man, interrupted. “Then that son of a bitch-“
Harry cut him off with a raised hand. “That son of a bitch did what he thought was right.” He glared at the bigger man before looking back at Spencer. “And then there were three.”
“Alright,” Blackston said, satisfied. “Well, we’ve cleared a path back to Celadon if you want to get out now.”
“No way, José,” Harry said with a shake of his head. “Now that you’re here, I can’t think of a better time to give those Rockets what they’ve got coming to ‘em.” He looked at Zachary and Elizabeth, who both nodded eagerly in agreement.
“Suit yourself.” Blackston shrugged before turning away to tend to his officers.
“Zach and I are going to go check those grunts for med kits,” Elizabeth said to Harry. “Arceus knows we’ll need them if this fight keeps on going.” Harry nodded and the two left.
Spencer sat down on the edge of the fountain. His knees ached from standing all day. Harry plopped down beside him. Despite his dress, he came across as a friendly fellow.
“You don’t look much like a cop, if you don’t mind me saying,” he said.
Spencer laughed. “I’m not. I’m here representing Silph Co.”
Harry raised an eyebrow as he removed his fedora. “Really? You don’t look like a fat cat either.”
“That’s because I’m a trainer, first and foremost.” Spencer rolled his Jolteon’s Poké Ball around in his hands, as he had not put it away. “I decided to wrap up my journey a couple years ago when Silph offered me a job.”
“Journey, too? Now that’s what I like to hear! I’m same as you, actually. Only I stopped getting badges several years back and I still haven’t found work.” He pulled something out of his fedora’s headband and stared at it. It looked like a photograph, but Spencer thought it would be rude to look over the man’s shoulder to see what of. “That’s why I came here, in fact,” he continued. “Not many job opportunities in Unova right now, but I’m beginning to wish I’d stayed.” He sighed deeply and stared at the photo.
Spencer didn’t respond, and silence fell between the two for a minute.
“Can I give you some advice, partner?” Harry suddenly spoke up.
“You want to know how to be happy in life? Find out what it is you want more than anything else, and do it. Do it, and don’t ever give up.” He tucked the photograph back into his hat and looked at Spencer, smiling. “Ever.”
With a whir, the doors of the machine began to slide open. I rushed out of them the second they were far enough apart to fit through, Haunter right behind me. I didn’t care how many Skyguard were outside, I did not want to do that again.
But no Skyguard awaited me. A row of computers similar to the one from before sat in front of the machine, but aside from that nothing was the same. Over the tops of the computers, windows looked out over the city. I could see smoke rising from several different places, but something else struck me as odd.
Haunter followed me towards the windows. I looked out. It certainly didn’t look like we were on the third floor.
I turned around to look at the machine, then at Haunter. “Did that thing just… teleport us?”
The ghost-type just stared at me and licked its eyeball.
I slowly began to piece together the words the robot woman had said. “There must be a bunch of these throughout the building. We didn’t put in a destination… so it scattered us!”
Haunter mimicked my grin of realization, but didn’t appear to understand what I was talking about.
I rolled my eyes at the Pokémon. “We need to find the others.”
It nodded, still grinning, but didn’t move, instead waiting for me to lead the way.
I rolled my eyes again. “You’re a big help…”
I looked around. A door led off to the left while a hallway turned a corner off to the right.
I chose the door. It was the exact same as all the other ones in the building: dull grey with a small square window in the middle. I peeked through to make sure no one was around. All I saw was more office space, on the other side of which was the massive rectangular pillar identical to the one that had surrounded the stairwell on the third floor.
“Good.” I tried the door. It was locked.
“Not good.” Without a pause I turned around and walked down the hallway, following it around a corner, where it widened slightly to accommodate a set of metal steps that went up a couple feet, leading towards…
Another machine took up the whole hallway. It had a gap on either side, so it looked like I could go through, but I had no intention of doing an encore of the teleporter. This definitely looked like a different machine. It was made out of a darker metal and was more circular than rectangular. I walked up the steps and peered inside. The floor sloped down into a gentle bowl symmetrical to the domed ceiling. It was only about fifteen feet in diameter, so the exit on the far side wasn’t far away.
I took a deep breath and looked at Haunter. “Just don’t press any buttons, we don’t have much of a choice.”
I took a tentative step inside. My footstep echoed slightly on the metal, but nothing happened. I took another step, gaining confidence. When I reached the middle, however, I felt the metal sink beneath my feet and settle into place with a click.
It was a pressure plate.
“Son of a b-“
There was another flash of light, but it was much more subdued and purple rather than white.
I can only describe the feeling I had next as similar to that you get when you are suddenly woken up from a deep sleep. You look around in confusion, unsure what’s going on or where you are, what’s real and what’s a dream, for you’re still half asleep. That was how I felt for several seconds as a sort of filter fell over my vision, only it wasn’t my vision. It was like a sixth sense had been suddenly brought forth. I could not just see, but feel everything in my immediate surroundings.
I staggered in surprise and confusion from this sensory overload, blinking rapidly, and stepped off of the pressure plate. Everything faded back to normal. I looked at Haunter, my eyes wide in surprise, but the ghost Pokémon didn’t appear to have experienced anything.
The experience hadn’t necessarily been an uncomfortable one, so I stepped back into the middle of the machine. This time, however, I kept my eyes shut tightly so that I could concentrate on this new feeling.
A moment after the pressure plate sunk down, the awareness leapt back into my mind. It reminded me of the feeling of my mind leaving my body that connecting psychically with my Pokémon gave me. Then it hit me. That’s exactly what it was! Somehow, this machine was amplifying my modest psychic ability to that of a psychic-type Pokémon.
With this realization, I concentrated and reached out towards Haunter, who seemed to glow slightly in my psychic “sight.” A wave of emotions poured over me so quickly that I immediately withdrew. The foreign thoughts felt unsettling. I did, however, understand them. Haunter found this whole situation exciting, but was eager to get back to Tim.
Tim! Maybe I could reach out and find the others! I concentrated once more and tried to expand my awareness, but quickly encountered a problem: I had no real idea how to do that. After several minutes of attempting to focus on more than one thing, I eventually gave up. There was no way I would be able to make my mind work that way, at least not without a lot of practice or tutelage.
Right as I was about to open my eyes and step out of the wondrous machine, however, something grabbed my attention. As in literally grabbed my attention and pulled it away. My eyes opened in shock, but that only added to the confusion, so I quickly jammed them shut again. The psychic touch that was pulling my mind out of the machine felt familiar somehow... if minds can feel familiar.
My focus was forced beyond the machine, where all was dark to my enhanced psychic mind. Two lights stood out in the darkness, one flickering dimly, and the other much brighter than even Haunter’s had been.
The mind that had grabbed mine forced me to concentrate on this brighter light and a flood of emotions and memories began to flow into my brain. Cerulean City… training with Sabrina… the battle against Surge…
Psyke! Is that you?
The Kadabra sent a wave of relief at having found me.
Where are you? Who are you with?
He didn’t respond, his mind seemed to be elsewhere for a second. For a moment, a stream of short, rudimentary words flooded to the front of my mind. It felt odd, like that moment of dementia before you fall asleep. Then I realized what Psyke was doing.
The word pressed into my ears like an echo, it sounded just like my own voice. My heart began to beat faster. I was talking to a Pokémon!
Was that really you? Are you really…
“No,” he interrupted.
I was confused, I didn’t think he was actually answering no to my question, but his basic vocabulary made him difficult to understand. He sent another wave of emotion. This time: urgency. He was telling me to shut up.
“How?” he said again.
I don’t know! I answered. There’s this machine… I think it amplifies psychic powers!
Psyke seemed to find this intriguing, but irrelevant. He sent a stream of images. He was with Tim. They were a few floors above me and would have to fight through several Rockets to get to the stairs. For now, they were hiding.
Alright. Sit tight, I’ll come to you, and then we can try to find Criss.
He paused for a moment. “Down.”
He paused again. “Girl. Down.”
Criss? You can sense Criss below us?
Hmm… I guess I’ll try to meet up with her first, then. How many Rockets are on your floor? Do you think you could take them?
Psyke seemed to find this amusing. He sent an image of four Rocket grunts, two Raticate, a Golbat, and an Ekans. “Yes.”
You take care of them, then. I’ll try to find Criss and then come up to you guys.
I tried to pull away, but Psyke held my attention on him. He sent an image of a pair of Rockets. “Your floor.”
I thanked him for the warning, noting his improved grammar, and he let me go.
Stepping off of the pressure plate and opening my eyes, I felt an odd sense of claustrophobia as my senses reeled themselves back in. I found myself missing the expanded awareness the second it disappeared, but I had to keep moving. With one last wistful look around the machine, I beckoned for Haunter to follow me out.
A sharp left turn followed yet another bank of computers hooked up to the psychic machine. Before turning however, I heard talking.
“Jus’ this box?” came a gruff voice from around the corner.
“That’s what he said, yeah. Apparently these’re pretty important, should’ve gone out with the first choppers,” another voice responded.
“Clerical error, eh?” the first voice laughed. “The boss’ll have someone’s head for that.”
“Better the boss than the captain.”
“You guard are always goin’ on about how ruthless ‘e is. Can’t be all that bad.”
I decided not to let the conversation continue. Pulling my stun rod out, I looked at Haunter.
“You go for whichever one’s got the box,” I whispered. “I’ll take care of the other.”
The ghost-type nodded, or rather, bobbed up and down rapidly and stuck its tongue out.
With a yell, I charged blindly around the corner.
The rage that usually fueled my mind and body when I charged into battle against Team Rocket was instantly replaced with a totally different emotion: panic.
I had just done exactly what Criss had warned me not to. I had underestimated the Skyguard.
The second he had heard my shout, the grey suited Rocket had dropped a Poké Ball on the ground. A strange green bird with white wings popped out, intercepting Haunter before the ghost-type could catch up with the grunt holding a cardboard box brimming with what looked like Master Balls.
“Intruder! Get those up to the higher levels and sound the alarm!” the lean yet muscular man commanded.
Haunter slammed into an invisible barrier of psychic energy produced by the Skyguard’s Pokémon. I recognized it as a dual psychic and flying-type that could be found in Johto, but I couldn’t recall the name. The grunt quickly carried the box off down the hall.
I swung my stun rod at the man, but he deftly raised a gloved hand and grabbed hold of it. I pulled the trigger, but if he felt anything, he didn’t show it.
I was shocked, unsure of what to do.
“I used to breed electric-types. Rubber gloves were a necessity,” the man said casually.
“Uh-huh,” I just stared at my weapon, held in the Skyguard’s iron grip. Then he punched me in the face.
I staggered backward, letting go of the stun rod, which the Skyguard dropped on the ground before approaching me. Behind him, the bird Pokémon seemed to be using some kind of psychic attack on Haunter. Unsure of how well trained the ghost-type was, I tried to call out an order.
“Haunter, use… uh… shadow claw!”
I didn’t have a chance to see if it worked, for my own opponent was upon me. I punched at his face, but he dodged to the side and responded with a blow of his own. Struggling to remember what Koga taught me about self-defense, I jumped backwards to avoid it.
The Rocket came at me again with two more punches. I dodged both by stepping backwards, but I knew I was bound to run out of room soon.
The moment that thought went through my mind, in fact, I felt my heel hit a wall as I retreated once more. The Skyguard saw the look of panic on my face and his smirk widened.
“Nowhere else to run, boy.”
He pulled a fist back, but before he could knock me out, a pair of clawed purple hands covered his eyes from behind.
The Skyguard flailed and turned around, but the purple figure behind it faded into darkness before appearing behind him, in front of me.
Haunter had evolved into Gengar.
The gremlin-like Pokémon winked at me before turning to face the Skyguard. The Rocket whipped around one more, stammering. He gave a start when he saw the ghost-type, who promptly stuck its tongue out and licked him right on the face.
The man spluttered and stumbled backwards. Gengar pointed both arms at him, palms out, and fired an odd blurry ring that I recognized as a hypnosis attack. As it hit the Skyguard, he stopped spluttering, blinked once, and fell to the ground sound asleep.
“Nice one, Haun… uh… Gengar!”
The ghost-type grinned at me.
“Now let’s get out of here and find Criss.” I retrieved my stun rod from where it lay next to the now snoring Skyguard, and dashed off down the hallway, past the unconscious form of the Skyguard’s Pokémon. The hallway soon opened up into the office space I had seen earlier, with the door leading to the stairs not far away.
The second I grabbed the door handle, I heard a muffled explosion that shook the building.
“Oh boy…” I opened the door to confirm my suspicion. A torrent of sound reached my ears as I stepped into the stairwell. Shouting, crashes, and the all too recognizable sounds of battle echoed up from below. What had Criss gotten herself into?
I looked down over the banister. Criss and Flareon were dashing up the steps. Every flight, Flareon would turn around and unleash a flamethrower at whatever was following them, which was making quite a bit of noise. As Criss rounded the flight across from where Gengar and I stood, she looked up and saw us.
“Keith! Is Tim with you?”
“No, he’s farther up,” I shouted back.
“Really? Well in that case… whoop!” She jumped sideways and scrambled up the next flight as a stony armored Rhyhorn charged into the wall right behind where she had been standing, leaving a crater in the concrete.
The moment Flareon got next to her, Criss dropped a Poké Ball that exploded open to reveal her Nidoking. The Rhyhorn backed out of its crater and shook its head off, but didn’t regain awareness in time to avoid the hulking poison-type as it grabbed the Rhyhorn and threw it back down the stairs. I heard swearing from below and assumed it had hit its trainer.
As Criss walked up the last steps to reach my level, her Nidoking let out a roar and stomped on the floor with such force that the stairs cracked with a resounding BANG! It stomped once more and a large section of the steps fell away, isolating us from Criss’s pursuers. She returned her Pokémon to its ball.
“What happened to you?” I looked at Criss. She was out of breath, had received several new cuts and bruises to add to her already sizable collection from the past few days, and now half of the throwing knives on her bandolier were missing.
“Damn machine didn’t do anything.” Criss wiped some blood away from a cut on her lip.
“I wouldn’t say that. It managed to scramble us up pretty good.”
“No, it didn’t do anything to me. Teleported me and Flareon right back to the same floor we were on. The doors opened and five Skyguard were waiting outside. Hold on, I need a minute.” She leaned against the wall and slumped to the floor, panting heavily with her eyes closed. Flareon, looking rather ragged itself, nuzzled against its trainer.
“Just don’t fall asleep yet. Tim should be waiting for us a few floors up,” I said. “How’d you get past five Skyguard? I just had enough trouble with one before Haunter evolved.”
She opened her eyes and looked up at the ghost-type floating next to me. “Well…” she said, her breathing beginning to slow. “It wasn’t easy. Hardest fight I’ve had since… since…” she rubbed her eyes. “Hardest fight I’ve had in a long time. The hard part was getting past them, but after that I started picking them off one by one as we climbed the stairs. How do you know Tim’s farther up?”
I explained to her about the psychic machine and what had happened to me since we had gotten split up.
“Huh. I wonder what they needed Master Balls for.”
I looked at the plate on the door I had come out of: “MENTAL MANIPULATION AND COMMUNICATION: RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT LAB 3”
It wasn’t much of a hint, so I shrugged. “Catching Pokémon?”
She looked up at me. “Your unmatchable insight is one of the reasons I decided to travel with you, and you never disappoint.”
“I try.” I laughed and grabbed her under her arm pulling her to her feet. “Let’s keep moving, I’d hate to keep Tim waiting.”
We rushed up the stairs, amused at the sounds of the Skyguard attempting to bridge the gap Nidoking had created in the steps.
We went up several floors, quickly scoping out each. Most were just offices, and none held Tim or any Rockets.
Eventually we came upon a floor with the plaque “POKÉMON METAMORPHOSIS: RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT LAB 5”
“This looks interesting,” Criss commented, leading the way in.
Finally we had reached a lab that was more or less exactly what I had envisioned Silph’s famed research labs to be. Rows of tables covered with computers, microscopes, small centrifuges, and other devices I had no idea as to the purpose of filled most of the space. It looked like there were a lot of different rooms throughout the floor, some with glass walls, and others with cement. Everything was a pristine white. It was easy to imagine a brigade of lab coat clad scientists bustling around the place, chatting excitedly about some new discovery.
Criss, Flareon, Gengar, and I edged carefully through the tables, looking around curiously. The sounds of voices led us to a closed, garage-like door by the windowed wall. A sign labeled the cordoned room as “Containment Room 4.” I pressed my ear to the door to hear the muffled voices more clearly.
It was hard to pick out what they were saying, as it sounded like lots of stuff was going in the room. Between the bangs and odd grunting noises, I only picked out a few words.
“No need… this specimen… the Boss dropped the program.”
Another voice responded, “Little longer… some data… reaction to the procedure…”
“There they are!” That voice most certainly did not come from behind the door.
Criss and I spun around to see a Skyguard and four or five grunts making their way towards us through the maze of lab tables. A Crobat and a Raticate sped forward, immediately engaging Gengar and Flareon in quite destructive combat.
The grunts split off and went for Criss, while the Skyguard, a balding man that looked a lot like the one Gengar had dispatched, came running at me.
Not wanting to leave Criss to take on five grunts on her own, I decided to try to end my fight quickly. I gripped my stun rod in both hands like a baseball bat, pulled the trigger, and swung with all of my might at the Skyguard’s torso.
He stopped just early enough. Leaning back slightly, his chest was just inches away from the buzzing prongs on the tip of my weapon. I went for another swing, but he was ready for it. With surprising dexterity, he caught my hands and held them between his. I tried to yank out of his grasp, or even tilt the stun rod so that it would touch him, but the man’s grip was too strong.
He took a step forward, pushing me back against the window. Was I really that incompetent? I had once more been backed into a corner. My muscles strained, veins bulging as I tried to overpower the Skyguard, but he held fast. Slowly but surely, I began to give way. My stun rod moved closer to my face, a fraction of an inch at a time.
My instincts kept fighting back, but my brain realized I was going to lose this fight. I was going to get knocked out, if not killed, then the Skyguard would go help the grunts finish of Criss, and Tim would be all alone in the middle of enemy territory.
We were all going to die. I was going to end up like Anna’s Pidgeot, like that girl in the Pokémon Center, like my Dad…
But somewhere in my mind, a voice spoke out against my defeatism. I didn’t want to die. In fact, I absolutely refused to. No way in hell was this murderous scum going to end my life. My mind raced as the buzzing edge of my own weapon moved closer and closer. How would Criss get out of this? How would Koga?
I thought back to the time I had spent with the ninja master. Faintly, I remembered a certain lesson where he had asked me to put my hands around his throat. I had held him tightly, but he had escaped, and beaten me in a single move. This wasn’t quite the same, but I figured a little improvisation couldn’t hurt.
Without warning, I changed the direction that I was pushing. Rather than forward, I moved my arms out. The Skyguard’s clenching grip was unrelenting, but I got enough space to drop the stun rod. It fell to the ground with a clunk. The Skyguard’s eyes followed it, confused.
I took advantage of that confusion to move my hands forward so that he was just grabbing my wrists. I turned my hands around and took hold of him by the inside of his arms. With a quick twist, I tore his hands free of my wrists and pulled him toward me. I met his face with my forehead and his groin with my knee.
The Skyguard staggered backwards with a howl of pain, hunched over and clutching his face. I swung a leg as hard as I could into the side of his head, knocking him over onto the ground before picking up my stun rod. With a light tap, he jerked once, and then grew still. My battle won, I looked to see how Criss was fairing.
I shouldn’t have worried. I watched in awe as she took hold of a grunt that had grabbed her arm, and swung him around into another man that was charging to tackle her. They smashed into each other and crashed into a nearby lab table, sending glass and expensive scientific equipment everywhere. Neither of them appeared ready to rejoin the fight.
It looked like she had already dispatched two of the other men in the time I had been fighting, leaving only one. The remaining grunt looked around in panic as he realized he was outnumbered. His fright was heightened by a crash as Gengar threw the Raticate through a computer screen. The ghost-type looked like it was enjoying itself.
The grunt pulled two Poké Balls from his belt. “Good thing I wasn’t on the front lines, I never needed these. Smell ya later!” He dropped the Poké Balls on the ground and ran away toward the staircase.
The capsules burst open to reveal a Nidoqueen and a Rhydon. The rock-type looked a bit confused at first, but the Nidoqueen, clearly trained to be violent, immediately rushed at Criss.
“Look out!” I shouted, but even though she hardly needed my warning, Criss couldn’t avoid the massive tail that swung around into her. She flew towards me, sliding a short ways across the linoleum.
“Are you okay?” I rushed over to her. She just grunted in pain, curled into the fetal position.
Flareon, leaving Gengar to deal with the Crobat, spat a line of flames at the poison-type, but the attack was blocked by the Rhydon. Now that the rock-type had come to its senses, it advanced on Flareon while Nidoqueen came at us. I pulled a Poké Ball at random from my belt and threw it forward. Tesla emerged. The one Pokémon that was next to useless against a pair of ground-types…
But before battle could commence, a scream sounded from inside the containment room.
“It’s loose!” There was a loud slam, the shattering of glass, and a series of crashes followed by a short silence.
People and Pokémon stood still, watching the door.
The floor shook with the impact of something against the door. It bent slightly.
The door bent even further, a crack now running through its middle.
There was another short pause before a massive torrent of water knocked the door right out of its frame. It sped by Criss, Tesla, and I to crash into Nidoqueen. Water from the blast splashed throughout the room. When it hit Rhydon, the rock-type gave a roar of anger.
Before it could act, however, a huge blue Pokémon rushed out of the containment room, slamming into the Rhydon. The drill Pokémon reeled, but its foe was unforgiving. I watched openmouthed as the new Pokémon picked up the rock-type with its short arms and heaved it across the lab to land on top of the slowly recovering Nidoqueen, and followed up with a final hydro pump.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was impossible… but at the same time, here he was right in front of me.
The Blastoise turned to face me.
HHHHHNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG I'VE BEEN WAITING SO LONG TO WRITE THIS (two years)
NEXT: The finale-ish